“Today, we are truly a global family. What happens in one part of the world may affect us all.”- Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
At the moment, we are amidst a global crisis. This virus with no borders has brought us all together, in the sense that no matter where in the world we may be, most of us are working from home, avoiding public spaces to keep ourselves and those around us safe. This is what I want to focus on today – the staggering importance of our actions and the impact that they have on wider society. I want to look at what co-dependence here means.
Self-isolation and social distancing measures are something we are familiar with by now. They have been implemented to keep countries and societies as a whole safe, yet they are all dependent on our actions as individuals. How we emerge from this virus is dependent on these actions. Our decisions and the consequences that they have on others have never been as important as they are now. I mean that both on an individual and societal level. Small actions, like staying at home, obeying social distancing measures and avoiding gatherings have the power to save lives. Where anyone reading this lives may vary on a great scale, but this virus is the same, as is how we can beat it. Recovery starts when our decision to keep as many people safe, which should also be our responsibility, quite literally saves the lives of those around us. As is often said, it is the small changes that make the biggest difference.
This responsibility does not end once the lockdowns are lifted. In fact, we must stay alert until we find a vaccine. Watching the European Youth Event, I was especially captivated by Enya Aquilina’s focus on the infamous anti-vaccination movement, or ‘vaccine hesitancy’. Essentially, it refers to parents refusing to vaccinate their children, despite vaccinations being available for those diseases. The origin of the movement is traced back to falsified research that has since been denounced. Aquilina reminds us that we, as young people and future leaders, have the opportunity to fight this movement and act responsibly once a vaccination arrives. We have a responsibility to be vaccinated once we are able to do so. We have the opportunity to show the role that access to healthcare and vaccinations play in keeping us and our societies safe. ‘Herd immunity’ is based on the premise that once the majority of us are vaccinated, the virus is unlikely to spread in the future, keeping the most vulnerable in our society safe (BBC, 2015). Our conscious decision to act responsibly in these times will not only protect us on an individual level, but also those around us who cannot do the same and rely on us to act sensibly.
This co-dependence is also evident on an international scale. The fact that the virus spread through international travel should not be the point of debate. Instead, it should be international cooperation that works to keep our countries safe, just like our individual decisions keeps the masses safe. International organisations and blocs are rallying together not only to get through the pandemic, but to be prepared for the aftermath. At the start of the pandemic, many states attempted to handle their own problems themselves. We saw news of countries working on individual deals in attempts to secure PPE equipment and other resources. This may have been an effective solution in the short-term, but Christine Lagarde, the President of the European Central Bank, reminds us at the EYE panel “Ask Christine Lagarde: The European Central Bank’s response to the coronavirus pandemic” held 26 May 2020 that this does nothing to avoid a catastrophic disaster in the future, or once countries are overwhelmed and do not have the fiscal capacity to continue. Indeed, such solutions were not even viable for all states to begin with – some greatly struggled to meet PPE demands. Lagarde outlined the plans from the Bank and European Union to prevent a similar future crisis, ranging from grants for heavily impacted countries to the improvement of the Health Program, now a stand-alone program with a great increase in funding. Access to healthcare is a human right, Lagarde reminds us, and these measures will go a long way to stop anything standing in the way of it. Even individual countries are doing as much as they can to prevent any obstacles to healthcare during these trying times, such as scrapping healthcare fees and testing as many people as they can.
Of course, there always two sides to a story like this. The hardest-hit countries are not so quick to put their trust in integration. I should point out that since these measures are being released after many of these countries have already passed their peaks, trust in the EU has dropped in those countries. The ECB’s measures and response from the EU, arguably, came a little late. Lagarde did stress throughout the event that this response was a long-term one. It would deal with future crises and prevent healthcare systems from being overcome in the future. The argument here is that countries that were severely overwhelmed, such as Italy and Spain, do not benefit from a post-pandemic package. However, I think we should also view this as a learning opportunity. Unprecedented events have required unprecedented actions, and this is therefore a learning curve. No government has reacted perfectly – the majority have been scrutinized for late responses. However, the EU is making sure not to repeat the mistakes through greater integration and cooperation.
The solution, therefore, lies in greater cooperation between states and between us as individuals. I am reminded of the CTP readings here – specifically the concept of a ‘global family’, teaching us that peace lies in our working with each other. It reminds us that economic and social interdependence has meant we cannot truly live in isolation from each other – what happens elsewhere in the world can and will affect those living on the other side. With the advances in technology, it is almost impossible for us not to be informed. If not in the news, we see what is happening in the world through social media. And now more than ever, we are aware of the injustices happening in the world. We have the responsibility and the choice to do better and be better.
These are unprecedented times. While this year has been a whirlwind of emotions and events, each incident has gone to show how connected we are to each other. Each incident has shown that wherever we may be, we are not so different. We face the same problems, and we rely heavily on each other to overcome them.
Published: June 18, 2020
Written by Sohah Ahmed, a WYA Europe intern from the UK